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Keeping Great Associates

This is the third article in the series Finding and Keeping Great Associates. The first dealt with where to find associates and the potential dangers of not making the right choice. The second outlined the interview process and why people need to find common ground so that they can learn to work together in a mutually rewarding experience. This article will discuss the essential process of introducing the new person into your clinic and the importance of rekindling working relationships as a matter of routine.

August 20, 2010  By Jim Smyth RMT


This is the third article in the series Finding and Keeping Great Associates. The first dealt with where to find associates and the potential dangers of not making the right choice. The second outlined the interview process and why people need to find common ground so that they can learn to work together in a mutually rewarding experience. This article will discuss the essential process of introducing the new person into your clinic and the importance of rekindling working relationships as a matter of routine.

When you and the new therapist have finally agreed to work together, you must then embark on a continuous relationship building process. Your goals should be initially to develop a working association with the new person at an individual level and subsequently, at a team level. It has been my experience that people want to contribute, be effective and grow in an environment of their choosing; consequently, as owner/manager, it is your responsibility to nurture the ecosystem within your clinic to ensure that people care about the environment (teamwork, co-workers, clients, surroundings, equipment, etc.) in which they work and do their best to contribute to the successful operation of the clinic.
Relationship building is, from my perspective, a three-part process:

  • Orientation and training,
  • Mentorship and relationship building,
  • Availability (on your part). 

If you can successfully orchestrate the co-ordination of these three actions, you will be able to build a milieu of harmony, respect and co-operation that everyone – associates and clients alike – will be willing to engage in.

First and foremost, your new colleagues should be introduced to every staff member in the clinic, and if you cannot do it personally, then you need to ensure that it is done, and in a timely manner.
 A posted announcement identifying particular strengths and specialties is often effective when someone joins the team. In addition, a more detailed tour of the clinic is in order so that new associates know where the oils, creams, linens, washrooms, their file slot, reference library, etc., can be found. All the little things need to be addressed in this tour so that they feel right at home. A new associate being comfortable with their surroundings will eliminate any potentially embarrassing moments when a new or existing client is given a treatment by the newest associate. In other words, because they are familiar with all the little things, the potential for a possible faux pas (misstep) is greatly reduced. Getting started on the right foot is very important; your new people need to feel welcome and comfortable in their new community!


Part of this process should also include the way you set up your tables and how you deal with clients before, during, and after treatment – including any client follow-up protocols you may have. Where technical and general reference material can be found is also very useful information.  Most clinics will have a computerized appointment and billing system for their operation, but, regardless of whether it is manual or computerized, your new person will definitely need an introduction as to how it functions and what his or her role is going to be in relation to it. 

In point of fact, every clinic will have a particular approach/method/procedure for doing various operations and trainees must be shown the ropes (so to speak); they must become acquainted with your modus operandi. The easiest and most effective way, as an introduction, is to have written standard  operation procedures (SOPs) for them to reference. Guidelines are a good title to give to SOPs because I have found that we (massage therapists) tend to work best in a flexible environment. Getting people started on the right foot will definitely lead to a more co-operative and harmonious working relationship.

Three key areas for guidelines to cover are documentation standards, client processing and client followup. This follow up must cover the full gamut of operating procedures associated with clients – regulars, gift certificates, WSIBs, MVAs, products and any other unique processing routine you may utilize at your clinic. When they have had a chance to review your guidelines, it is important you provide real samples of the documentation. They need to be given access to the client files as reference material. 

However, it is important to be aware that access to information (client files) is a guarded procedure. Remember that the Privacy of Information Act is in place and that the right to view the files is very restricted. Your new people will require permission to review the files or they will need to be set up as a security officer so that they can peruse the personal information of your existing clients. If you do not have this in place, then sample files with specious (false) information should be made available. 

While we are on the subject of legislative acts, we all need to be aware that Bill 169 has recently been passed into law in Ontario. This means that all business owners, with five or more personnel are required to have a policy to deal with potential violence and harassment in the workplace. The government has assigned inspectors to ensure that all businesses have a system in place, to protect all people (clients, staff, delivery people, anyone) who enter into the work environment. If you do not have a set of rules outlined, now is a good time to start. There are potential fines that could be handed down if this issue is not addressed.

Now that we have covered the outline of three potential documents to assist with the operation of the clinic, we should also recognize that once something is on paper it has already started the natural process of becoming outdated. As a result, we must continue to update and review the documents on a regular basis, semi-annually as a suggestion, to ensure ongoing timeliness and accuracy.

You must work at developing relationships initially at the individual level and eventually at the team level.  A massage exchange with the newest staff member is an excellent way to break the ice: it allows both people to get treatment (something all of us need). The time also provides the opportunity of getting to know each other better, and each of you can get a better understanding of the other person’s interests. In addition, it allows each of you to learn new techniques – this is especially important if the new arrival has been practising only for a short period of time. The more experienced hands can introduce effective techniques that can help the novice develop a practice more efficiently and potentially within a shortened time frame. The additional bonus being, if the inductee is a recent graduate or a continuous learner (an excellent quality) they will have a wealth of current techniques and updated research data at their fingertips that they will be willing to share. This two-way street is a very important process in which to be fully engaged. The massage exchange is an excellent way of staying in touch (literally and figuratively).

You also need to incorporate into your routine other encounters with your apprentice and your existing associates. To do this, I am suggesting that being at the office daily will give you the informal opportunities that are so essential in developing ongoing relationships. In the beginning, it is very important to be in contact frequently to develop the connection, but once the initiation period is complete you must continue to maintain and develop a rapport in a long-term format. It is critical to develop these relationships both in a one-on-one format and in a group setting.

Consequently, another vital aspect of long-term mentoring and relationship building is the holding of regular team meetings. Once per month is a reasonable time frame for these important encounters. The monthly format should give you, the manager/owner, time to prepare between sessions and save everyone else from being bored by possible repetition. These assemblies are excellent opportunities for a number of topics to be covered, such as: suggestions for change or improvement, introducing new/revised forms or procedures, planning for events, discussing advertising or brainstorming for new approaches. 

The gatherings could also be used for periodic training
sessions in different techniques. Most of your people will have a specialty that they feel proficient in and this is a good opportunity for them to share their expertise. As well, you could bring someone in from another discipline to elaborate on what they do and how it might benefit your clinic to have a working relationship with their profession or clinic. The opportunities are many if you set your mind to the task.

Mentoring is an ongoing process of building relationships both with the individual and the team, and you can do this only through regular contact. You must interact with your team members and have your team members interact with one another. The opportunity to build a co-operative community of professionals can be achieved only if you take an active role in initiating exchanges among all members of the team.

For true relationship building to occur, between you and your associates and among all clinic members (therapists, staff and yourself), you must be available to activate the interaction. An pen-door policy is one of the best methods of keeping the lines of communication open. It must be clear to the people you work with that, as manager/owner, you are prepared to be available when any input or interaction is required on your part – and you must act. 

In addition, you need to go out of your way at every opportunity to initiate some form of contact. Find out how they are feeling, give them some praise for a task well done or just share some small talk or an innocuous joke. You need to be doing this on a daily basis and recognize that it is a continuous process. 

Ultimately, you are the one person people will look to for guidance and leadership. It is your responsibility to show up for work on time, with a professional attitude, in professional dress, with the good of everyone connected to the clinic in your sights. It is your job to act on the commitments you have made to yourself and to others. You are the one who must be available and take the initiative. If you do this, then you might possibly create a clinic milieu of harmony, respect, co-operation and innovation.

Jim Smyth owns and operates a clinic in Peterborough with seven massage therapists and a fitness facility on site.  His ebook Find and Keep Great Associates is available at by clicking on the tab “Great Associates.”

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